|“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 17, the school district and a host of community groups from the city and beyond host the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at the Niagara Falls High School at 6 p.m. This year, the Committee is honoring W. Lee Whitaker, Joanne Lorenzo and the Magdalene Project and a student named LaSharee Wallace.
Lee Whitaker, as we all know, works for the Housing Authority. What you may not know is that she attended the Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, is a Certified Public Housing Manager, Certified Occupancy Specialist and a Certified STAR Domestic Violence Instructor.
She has been a member of the Niagara Falls Chapter, The Links, Inc., for numerous years, where she serves as the Chair of the Youth Committee and has implemented numerous educational and cultural enrichment programs. Currently, along with her committee, she is implementing an intensive mentoring program that will include tutoring, empowerment workshops, career readiness and internships.
She also serves as a Commissioner for the Niagara Falls Human Rights Commission.
You may not know that her dedication to promote and protect human rights along with fundamental freedom comes from her own experiences.
Working in Brundidge, Alabama at the age of 18, she experienced discrimination first-hand. She was employed by a large factory and during lunch, Lee and her co-workers would walk down to one of the only restaurants in the area. While her co-workers ate lunch inside, she was required to enter through the back door, next to the garbage receptacles, to get her lunch. She then had to eat outside.
We don’t think about that kind of hate in our country day to day, but it was there. People like Lee, who rose above it and found a career helping others, deserve an award.
Joanne Lorenzo, you may or may not know, founded the Magdalene Project, which reaches out to the communities of Niagara Falls by distributing Bible tracts, toiletries, food and roses to women in prostitution and people on the streets, basically to the people most of us just drive past.
Lorenzo wants people on the streets to know they are worth something. She communicates that by going out into the night and finding people who need help. She prays with them if they will let her. She runs the ROSE CAFÉ, where ladies from the streets are welcome to have a cup of hot coffee, a donut, hear some Gospel music and receive prayer. She writes to women in jail. She offers dignity back to people who have lost or surrendered it.
She does it for no pay. She does it for no profit. She does what very few people do.
Joanne Lorenzo deserves an award.
LaSharee Wallace is a Niagara Falls High School student who teaches Spanish to younger children, has spent time volunteering at Community Missions and Schoellkopf Nursing Home, and organized a community event at the Doris W. Jones Family Resource Center in connection with the death of Zenobia Williams. Selected by the Wolverine Club to be honored, LaSharee deserves an award.
The guest speaker this year is True Bethel Pastor Craig Pridgen. Musical guests include the increasingly popular Reign.